Is this the end of conservatism? Not quite. Some took the 2008 election results as a sign that it was time for America to accept its progressive liberal destiny and pack conservatism up with the rest of the traditions that we have left behind. But Dr. Lee Edwards of the Heritage Foundation demonstrated on April 1st that he knows better, characterizing the Democratic gains as nothing more than a swing, awaiting the counter-swing of conservatism, on the political pendulum.
“American conservatism has undoubtedly suffered steep ups and downs in the post-World War II period,” Edwards said. “But each time, conservatism rose from the ashes like the fabled Phoenix.” And if conservatism is headed for the “ash heap of history,” as liberal pundits and historians keep insisting, it is only that it might rise again stronger than before.
This process of regeneration may be a very good thing for the conservative movement—a chance to rethink its strategies, reorganize its base and reaffirm its ideals. Edwards wanted to make one thing very clear—“Republicans lost in 2008 and in 2006 not because they ran on conservative principles, but because they ran away from conservative principles.”
Edwards suggested that the key change the conservative movement must make is a transformation to a politics of inclusion. There is no reason, he contends, that social conservatives, neoconservatives, fiscal conservatives, and libertarians cannot all come together on common beliefs to form a comprehensive ideological movement. His is a philosophy of “fusionism,” which includes the idea that the various strands of conservatism still share the common traits that have shaped the movement from the beginning, and can serve as uniting forces.
In 1964, the libertarian thinker Frank Meyer organized a group of leading conservatives to answer the question, “What is conservatism?” Edwards points out that “despite real differences…the contributors, ranging from [Friedrich] Hayek to [Russell] Kirk to [William F.] Buckley, agree on several fundamentals.” This diverse group of conservative intellectuals agreed that:
• They accept “an objective moral order” of “immutable standards by which human conduct should be judged”;
• Whether they emphasize human rights and freedoms or duties and responsibilities, they unanimously value “the human person” as the center of political and social thought;
• They oppose liberal attempts to use the State “to enforce ideological patters on human beings”;
• They reject the centralized power and direction necessary to the “planning” of society;
• They join in defense of the Constitution as “originally conceived”; and
• They are devoted to Western civilization and acknowledge the need to defend it against the “messianic” intentions of Communism.
“I believe that a rejuvenated fusionism” could reunite all the branches of the “loosely bound” conservative movement, Edwards said. Fusionism has an opportunity to take hold in the conservative movement now, in its time of need. The movement will not bring itself back to life, however. The rebirth of the conservative Phoenix will require the cooperation of the base, the thinker, the doer, the leader and the financier. When these people begin to work together again, the fusion of conservative ideologies into one powerful, coherent movement will take place.
Democrats control the House, the Senate, and the White House, but the conscientious conservative opposition is far from dead. In fact, conservatism is alive as ever, because it is a cause born in the principles upon which this nation was founded. Edwards closed his remarks by reminding his listeners of the principles that have always pulled this nation through hard times, the same principles on which conservatives have always based their philosophy: “Prudence, not rashness. Custom, not the impulse of the moment. A transcendent faith, not a fatal conceit. Reform, not revolution.”